Eating healthy and sustainable food has hit the mainstream, but if you’re thinking about what’s good for the inside of your body, surely what goes on the outside is also important?
The average adult uses nine personal care products a day, with 126 unique chemical ingredients, according to a survey of 2,300 people done by the US cosmetic database EWG.
With that many different ingredients going on your skin, sometimes for the whole day if it’s something like foundation, it’s worth thinking about what these ingredients are and where they come from.
Certified products with the COSMOS (Cosmetic Organic Standard) stamp, which was created by the Soil Association along with other partners, are guaranteed to have no GM ingredients, no parabens, and no synthetic colours, preservatives or fragrances. In addition, the certification promotes a transparent manufacturing process and says it helps protect wildlife and biodiversity through the small-scale cultivation of organic ingredients.
As plant-based products aren’t always as sustainable as they seem, think soya and its link to deforestation, it’s fair to question where some of the ingredients behind your organic beauty products are sourced from. Ethical beauty pioneers Neal’s Yard Remedies buys from a range of Fairtrade suppliers including sourcing avocado oil from organic small-scale growers in the Kenyan highlands; honey from indigenous farming communities in Mexico who sell to a cooperative; and organic frankincense essential oil from Oman, which is sustainably harvested from Boswellia sacra trees.
Suppliers are chosen for their ethical business links, as well as their organic credentials, while carbon emissions from supply are offset through a forestry project in Madagascar. “There’s a growing sustainability movement in Oman, working to combat unsustainable practices that mean that many frankincense trees are in danger of dying out. We’re proud to only use the most sustainably-sourced frankincense while supporting local collectors at the same time,” explains Neal’s Yard Remedies’ natural health director, Susan Curtis.
When you start to think about the origin of your beauty products as well as your food, it can feel a bit overwhelming. But on the other hand, it’s also completely fascinating to come across a whole new supply network and realise once again how your buying choices link to small-scale farming communities and local economies across the world.
As always, it’s a complicated process to tease out exactly what it means to be an ethical consumer, taking into account things like air miles, carbon footprint and ethical sourcing. There are inevitable trade-offs as more information becomes available and a desire for transparency raises new issues. Then there is the question of price, as many people simply do not have the luxury of making buying decisions based on anything other than affordability.
But the growing interest in where the products we consume and use come from, and the impact they have on our bodies and the environment, is moving from food to beauty and beyond – and that’s one trend that is hopefully here to stay.